Greek Yogurt, From Scratch!

36,669

480

58

Intro: Greek Yogurt, From Scratch!

It's amazing the things you don't pay attention to or simply forget from when you were a kid. A couple of years ago I discovered how fantastic homemade yogurt can be: easy to make and really great tasting. It turns out that my Armenian grandmother used to make it all the time, on her wood stove! I never paid attention to it, and always wondered -- but never asked -- what the jar of white stuff was, sitting on the floor behind the stove in her kitchen. It turns out to be one of the most healthful, flavorful and economical foods you can make on your own. Far cheaper than the store-bought versions, and pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

I have essentially taken the process my grandmother -- and countless others before her -- used and "modernized" it a bit. It's still cooking, cooling and incubating fresh milk with a little starter, but I have developed a method of culturing the milk that doesn't require the wood stove to be burning 12 months a year. I have gotten into a good rhythm, producing 2 or 3 batches a month for a couple of years now. The starter for the next batch is a few ounces from the current batch.

This process may be a bit more "technical" than others, and I include some alternatives I've seen that are also successful. What I think I've done is to create a pretty consistent and reproducible result every time. If you're willing to invest a little bit of money and a few gadgets into the process, you will be rewarded with a really tasty result that's 1/3 the cost of what you could find in stores. Or, if you want to give the process a little more attention during each batch, then skip the more technical elements and stick to the basics. Either way, you end up with fantastic, fresh yogurt!

Step 1: Components

Aside from fresh milk, there are a few components I use to make yogurt. This method starts with a gallon of milk, so the containers all support that capacity. These are the kitchen components I use for the different steps, essentially in the order I use them. You likely have most of these in your kitchen already.

Heating

  • 6-quart stock pot or "dutch oven"
  • Candy thermometer or digital thermometer that has accuracy between 40 deg and 200 deg F
  • Spoon, ladle or silicone spatula
  • Soup bowl
  • Stainless steel whisk
  • Yogurt culture
  • Large salad bowl 1/2 filled with ice water

Incubation

  • 1-gallon glass jar with a lid
  • 9" x 19.5" electric seedling heat mat
  • Temperature controller
  • Towels, for insulation

Straining

  • 4-quart mixing bowl
  • Smaller bowl that nests inside the mixing bowl
  • Strainer
  • Tea towel or other cloth, for straining the yogurt

Step 2: A Brief Note About Cleanliness and Bacteria

I make a solid effort to keep all utensils and containers clean and dry, but I don't sterilize everything. I start with utensils and containers clean and dry from the dishwasher. If you're unsure that all the soap residue has been completely rinsed from these, then rinse them thoroughly and make sure they're dry before using. The pot I wash thoroughly and rinse with filtered water before letting it air dry. The jar gets washed, rinsed and air dried right after the straining step, so it's ready for the next batch. Beyond that, I don't feel the need to have a "sterile field" to make yogurt.

Your own cooking environment can have an impact on the types of bacteria present in your yogurt. There are naturally occurring bacteria all around us, and some may well be the "thermophilic" (active above room temp) type that cultures yogurt. The yogurt you make will be your own special blend of the starter you choose and whatever happens to make its way into your next batch. That's what makes it your own. Enjoy it!

Step 3: Heat the Milk

I start with a gallon of the freshest milk I can find. I typically use 2% milk with no antibiotic or GMO additives. Use whatever you can find, just make sure it's nice & fresh.

I have also used full-fat unpasteurized milk from a dairy farm, and the results are spectacular. The yogurt has a golden hue to it from the milk fat, and the mouth feel unctuous, almost like thick whipped cream. I don't have easy access to raw milk where I live, but when I can find some, it's a real treat!

Update(16 Sept, 2015): I made a batch of raw goat's milk this summer. It was very successful in terms of consistency, with the familiar goat cheese taste. Goat cheese fans will love it. It's great in savory recipes, but it's not my favorite breakfast yogurt...

Steps:

  • Reserve about a 1/4 cup of milk, so the milk with the starter will fit in the 1 gallon jar.
    • This does not get used in the process, so just use it anywhere you use fresh milk. In coffee, perhaps?
  • Pour the rest of the milk into the stock pot and position the thermometer above the bottom of the pan.
    • I use a digital cooking thermometer, but I have also used a candy thermometer with good success.
  • Heat the milk on medium-high heat and gently stir constantly.This takes me about 25 minutes for a gallon.
    • Heat set too high or not enough stirring can cause milk protein "grains" to form.
  • At 190 deg. F take the pot off the heat.

Heating the milk affects the milk proteins and helps thicken the yogurt. It also has a pasteurizing effect and eliminates other bacteria so the starter can do its job all on its own.

Update(16 Sept, 2015): A friend suggested to keep the milk at the 190 deg. F temp for 5-6 minutes before cooling. This helps further thicken the final yogurt. I have found that it results in more yogurt solids, so it ends up with a little more than 2 quarts of yogurt and a little less than 2 quarts of whey. Yay, more yogurt!

Step 4: Cool the Cooked Milk & Add the Starter

The heated milk needs to cool, either on its own or in an ice bath. I use an ice bath with the thermometer in place to speed the process and keep a skin from forming.

The Starter

The amount of starter needed is relatively small, and too much can actually cause problems during incubation. The ratio I use is about 1.5 tablespoons per quart, so for a gallon of milk I use about 1/3 cup of yogurt from my last batch.

Your initial starter can be any live culture yogurt you can buy in the grocery store, or there are sources for yogurt cultures online, as well. Once you have a successful batch made, some of that can be used as the starter for your next batch! I have been using previous batches for about the last 30 batches, almost a year.

Update(16 Sept, 2015): I'm now up to almost 2 years of propagating fresh batches with previous batches!

Steps:

  • Cool the milk in an ice bath to 125 deg F stirring regularly to speed the process.
    • I use a large mixing bowl 1/2 filled with ice water that the stock pot fits into.
    • Ice water in a stopped-up sink works well, too.
  • Ladle out a couple of scoops of warm milk into a soup bowl.
  • Add 1/3 cup of starter and whisk to form a slurry.
  • Add the slurry to the larger pot of milk and whisk it together thoroughly.

Step 5: Incubation

This is where the more "technical" part of my process begins. The bacteria need a slightly elevated temperature to do their work. This range is somewhere between 108-115 deg F depending on the cultures used. I have developed a process for incubating the milk at a consistent 108 deg F. I can set it up and walk away until the incubation process is finished. I leave it for 12-14 hours before I remove the incubation heat.

The essential function of the incubation process is:

  • Keep the milk and starter mixture warm and undisturbed for several hours.

There are many ways of accomplishing this. Place the jar in an oven with a pilot light, or behind a hot wood stove. I have a friend who uses hot water in a covered camping cooler and mostly submerges the jar for several hours. You can use a heating pad with a towel over it, put the jar on that and cover it all with a large pot. Another technique uses a crock pot. I have a combination of an electric seedling heating mat and a digital temperature controller. This keeps the jar at a steady 108 deg. F until I turn it off.

Steps:

  • Pour the milk & starter mixture into the glass jar and cover.
  • Attach the temperature probe to the outside of the jar.
    • Make sure the probe has direct contact with the glass jar.
    • I use a small piece of foam between the probe and the heat mat so the temp reading comes from the jar and not the heating mat.
  • Wrap the electric heating mat around the jar.
  • Wrap with towels to form an insulating layer.
  • Plug the heating mat into the temperature controller set to 108 deg F.
    • My controller has Celsius only, so I use 42 deg C.
  • Leave undisturbed for 12-14 hours.

108 deg F is at the low end of the incubation temperature range. I have tried a higher temp for less time, and that works, as well. I use the low end so the time frame is more forgiving. I have left a batch to incubate for 16 hours (I forgot about it!) and I have taken it out in as little as 10 hours and the results are not too noticeably different. Essentially, the longer a batch incubates, the more sugars the bacteria consume, which affects how tart a batch will taste. Experiment and find a combination that works for you.

A little History of My Temperature Controller

I first started with making yogurt by putting the jar to incubate on the hot water heater, which is next to the furnace in the basement of our house. This worked great all winter, but come spring when the furnace stopped firing on a regular basis, the results were disappointing. The batch would not set up and the bacteria just didn't have enough heat to do their job. I switched to the seedling heating mat plugged directly into the wall, and kept checking the temperature of the batch with a quick-read digital thermometer, opening or closing the towel wrap to regulate the temperature. This was time-consuming and unpredictable.

I discovered a temperature controller available online that could serve to regulate the heating mat power. This device monitors temperature for a set range and activates one 120-volt relay for heating and another for cooling. It required some hands-on skills -- working with AC voltage and electrical wiring -- to build the assembly around it to use it for controlling the heating mat.

Once I built the temperature controller, it was a matter of attaching the temperature probe to the jar, wrapping the heating mat around the jar, and bundling it up in towels for insulation. Now I can plug it in and forget about it until the incubation process has completed. I usually aim for just after dinnertime to put up a new batch, so it's ready to chill first thing in the morning.

I am considering an instructable for assembling the temperature controller. If you're interested in having one built for you, please let me know.

Step 6: Cooling & Straining the Fresh Yogurt

At this point, the yogurt is ready to eat. You can transfer it to a mixing bowl and whisk it up to make it smooth, and chill it to stop the fermentation process. I prefer to strain it to remove much of the whey. This is the classic "Greek" style of yogurt, thick and without the liquid whey that unstrained yogurt has.

This cooling step is one I have not seen in other recipes. I have found that cooling the cultured yogurt in the jar before straining it results in a firmer texture. It seems to let the yogurt solids collect more easily. I have tried straining the warm cultured yogurt, but I've found that a noticeable amount of yogurt solids end up in the whey. Chilling it in the big jar for 12-18 hours results in clear whey with almost no yogurt solids in it.

Steps:

  • Cool the jar of cultured yogurt for 12-18 hours before straining
    • In the winter I put the jar outside until it's cool, then transfer to the refrigerator.
    • In summer I put the warm jar in the refrigerator and surround it with ice packs from the freezer to keep the refrigerator from getting too warm.
    • Update (16 Sept, 2015): I've been tinkering with this step, and I've determined it's really important for the yield of yogurt to whey. a short amount of time cooling seems to cause more of the solids to end up in the whey. So, don't skip this step if you're going to strain it for Greek style yogurt.
  • Line the strainer with a tea towel, cheesecloth, muslin or other cloth to contain the yogurt and let the whey drain.
  • Nest the bowls and place the strainer on top of the smaller bowl to elevate it.
  • Pour the yogurt gently from the jar into the lined strainer.
  • Let it drip in the refrigerator until about 1/2 the volume of whey has separated.
  • Drain off the whey into jars and set aside.
  • Transfer the strained yogurt into the larger mixing bowl and whisk smooth.
  • Store in covered containers in the refrigerator.

The result should be 1 part thick Greek yogurt and 1 part whey from 2 parts milk.

From a gallon of milk I get 2 full quarts of thick yogurt and 2 quarts of whey. Both go into containers and into the refrigerator. When I finish the first quart it's time to start the next batch!

Chill the yogurt and enjoy the fruits of your labor! It should easily keep for 2 weeks or more stored covered in the refrigerator.

Step 7: All the Whey...

This process generates a lot of whey that is super nutritional and has a lot of uses in the kitchen and in the garden, too. I use it for soaking beans and to replace water in some baking recipes. When I get too much to keep in the refrigerator, I pour the excess into the composter.

There are lots of ideas online for using whey left over from making Greek yogurt, including food preparation, cosmetics, animal feed and gardening. Here are some ideas from different websites for what to do with the whey you generate from straining your yogurt:

Cultures for Health: Ways to use Whey

Salad in a Jar: 18 Ways to use Whey

Farm Curious: What to Do with All that Whey?

Superfood Challenge

First Prize in the
Superfood Challenge

Share

Recommendations

  • Audio Contest 2018

    Audio Contest 2018
  • Tiny Home Contest

    Tiny Home Contest
  • Fix It! Contest

    Fix It! Contest

58 Discussions

0
None
CJLullham

3 years ago on Introduction

My mum make it all the time and it's fantastic, and indeed she pours the whey in the pots. I rarely see her changing the soil.

0
None
rleibman

3 years ago on Introduction

My process is very similar to yours, with a few exceptions:

- To make as consistent batch as possible I always start with a natural (or plain vanilla) yogurt from the store that I've tested before and that everyone in my family likes. It's not as "cheap" as reusing my previous batch, but my family doesn't complain about it.

- I use a sous vide circulator to keep temperature. I make about a gallon of yogurt at a time in pint mason jars

- I also use 2% milk, but I add a cup of powdered milk to it when it reaches 80 Celcius, this adds protein to the yogurt without affecting the yogurt otherwise.

- I only filter into greek yogurt some of my yogurt, not everybody likes is as thick.

1 reply
0
None
GeeDeeKayrleibman

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

I'm always happy to see others making their own yogurt. Whatever process works for you, that's great. I like the sous vide idea, but it's just not in my bag of tricks. I have heard of adding powdered milk, which I have been told reduces the need for straining because it adds more milk solids. I prefer to stick with straight milk and deal with the whey run-off, this way I have more control over the sources of my ingredients. I'm glad you have a consistent result that works for you!

As for thick vs. thinner yogurt, you can always add back some whey and whisk it in. I do this sometimes when I bake using yogurt, because the thicker yogurt doesn't have enough liquid for the recipe. I always reserve the whey from a batch so I have some at hand when needed.

I'm also finding more uses for whey. There's baking with yogurt, of course. Also, I just discovered that storing tofu in whey keeps it available far longer than just water. When I open a tofu package, I use what I need and put the remainder in a container and cover it with whey. I tend to use it pretty quickly, but it's nice to be able to keep it around longer in whey than water.

0
None
GeeDeeKayRRVmax

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

The word yogurt is indeed derived from Turkish. However, yogurt has been made by people for thousands of years, far predating most present-day cultures, probably back to the Neolithic period. I don't think any one culture can claim the invention of yogurt.

0
None
Joe Byers

3 years ago on Introduction

Thanks, Heating the milk to a higher temperature works better for me, too.

0
None
na40

3 years ago

Yogurt is a BULGARIAN even bacteria wich make yogurt caled Lactobacillus BULGARICUS everyone can see in Wikipedia

0
None
zipkinkurt

3 years ago

Yogurt is make a TURKİSH/TURKEY!!!
NE MUTLU TÜRKÜM DİYENE!!!

0
None
onemoroni1

3 years ago on Step 7

Nice instructable, but too involved for me. I have a home yogurt maker and just put the maker amount of whole milk in a double boiler for 20 mins. Then I take the skin off and put it in the maker container in the fridge for 40 mins. Then it is cool enough to put a spoonful of plain yogurt from the store and place in the cooker overnight. Then I remove it and put in the fridge to cool and get more solid so it is easier to pour off the whey. I have kept a batch going for over a year until I got lazy. Whole milk makes the minimal amount of whey.

1 reply
0
None
GeeDeeKayonemoroni1

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

As long as you get the yogurt you like, I say keep doing what you're doing! Your timing works, and that's what matters, I use temp instead of time; that seems like the primary difference between our respective processes.

It sounds involved, and the first couple of batches using this process might seem to have a lot of steps, but many of them blend into each other. I just put up a gallon of milk to incubate this morning, and it took me about 30 minutes from pouring the milk to scrubbing the pot clean. About 10 more minutes of work once the batch is ready to strain and I've got thick, fresh yogurt.

I'm a bit of a dork when it comes to gadgets, so I like to know when the milk is 190 degrees in the pot, when it's cooled to 130 degrees, and that it's incubating at a steady temp. I'm always looking to streamline the process, too. My goal is a consistent product, so controlling the steps to get the same result each time is important to me.

Whatever works is the right way to do it!

0
None
ferjanyen

3 years ago

Nice project! Would like to see an instruc. of the temp controller. For your green house you could use rack and pinion steering wheel of a car with steping motor or some hidrolics of the same. Think of scrap yards for bits.after all the windows could be opened by pulley connected to the above developed methods and maybe mounted on the floor of the greenhouse. Let me know how you get on. Good luck! !

0
None
JonT3

3 years ago on Introduction

Oh, BTW, I used White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt as starter. It is available at Whole Foods, at least in S. California, and comes in a glass jar. It is tasty, but very loose. I find the texture unappealing. I suppose the texture doesn't matter if you are making Greek, but I also save a quart of regular.

I now incubate for 18 hours at 110F (48C). The consistency is nothing like the White Mountain that I used as starter. It has a really nice texture and will not separate in the jar. I really don't think it is possible to ship a natural yogurt, even in a glass jar, and not have it separate. The White Mountain has no stabilizers or added nonfat powdered milk, so it's just not possible for it to keep a nice texture from factory to store. But the same culture makes a wonderful home-made yogurt that does not separate as long as it sits in a glass jar.

I reserve a bit in a half-pint Mason jar, to make sure that I don't forget and eat all of the yogurt! I think it's been more than a year now on the same culture, don't think I'll ever need to buy a starter again.

0
None
JonT3

3 years ago on Introduction

Oh, BTW, I used White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt as starter. It is available at Whole Foods, at least in S. California, and comes in a glass jar. It is tasty, but very loose. I find the texture unappealing. I suppose the texture doesn't matter if you are making Greek, but I also save a quart of regular.

I now incubate for 18 hours at 110F (48C). The consistency is nothing like the White Mountain that I used as starter. It has a really nice texture and will not separate in the jar. I really don't think it is possible to ship a natural yogurt, even in a glass jar, and not have it separate. The White Mountain has no stabilizers or added nonfat powdered milk, so it's just not possible for it to keep a nice texture from factory to store. But the same culture makes a wonderful home-made yogurt that does not separate as long as it sits in a glass jar.

I reserve a bit in a half-pint Mason jar, to make sure that I don't forget and eat all of the yogurt! I think it's been more than a year now on the same culture, don't think I'll ever need to buy a starter again.

0
None
schabanow

3 years ago on Introduction

The keyword is "starter". )) We do almost the same here in Ukraine: "Narine" (see Armenian granny in ible's text)), and a dozen of others dried lactobacterial starters they suggest us here just in any drugstore. Well, not all went right and easy but with a little experience the process has been successfully hacked up. No thermocontrollers, no thernoneters, no multi-cookers - all these gadgets are on my wife' fingertips now ... but multi-cooker is a real cool thing. ))

2 replies
0
None
GeeDeeKayschabanow

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

I really like the image of all those gadgets being on your wife's fingertips!

My grandmother certainly didn't use anything more technical than her senses and a big iron box on legs that would contain a wood fire. (And maybe a candy thermometer for hot sugar treats.)

I'm a product of a more technical time, and I am always looking for an excuse to build another project. I do try to observe the changes while the process is going on, and I bet I could make a batch without a thermometer or the temp controller. Still, I like to tinker with my toys...

0
None
schabanowGeeDeeKay

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

I see. So am I (concerning hitech-addict adult babies))).

Have you out there heard of "Narine" healthy jogurt invented by one ex-Soviet (Armenian to be exact) dietologist? "Narine" lactobacterial starter (named after his daughter Narine, as I remember) gives pretty special stuff' texture, like ... let me have a look through my dictionary ... thick starchy jelly, EXTREMELY ropy and thick. To enjoy it you have to accustom to such an extreme consisency. )) But if you could manage, the "Narine" seemed to you nice and tasty. I'm not sure about if it does any good to your health, but as a dessert it is okay, any doubts.

My wife has used vacuum flask to brew it up, but later she cancel it and start make the stuff just upon the heating radiator in the kitchen. ))

0
None
gurcano

3 years ago on Introduction

Nice work. As far as I know, it is healthier not to seperate the yogurt and the yellow water "whey". But of course it will be more runny...

0
None
KenW

3 years ago on Introduction

If the yogurt is held between 108* and 115* (not over 118* as this destroys the health benefits we are after) for 30 hours (not over 32 hours because of destroying the health benefits) about 95% of the people that have a dairy allergy can eat this yogurt without any problem. One way to check this is to put a drop of yogurt (any food actually) on the inside of your arm, just above the wrist area, just before you go to bed would be a good time. Let this dry and check the area the next morning. If it shows redness or is inflamed, don't eat the yogurt. If there is very little or no redness then it would be okay to start off eating only a small amount of yogurt, such as a teaspoon full and gradually build up the amount each day to make sure you can tolerate it, just to be on the safe side. You can also make an 'oven' for large containers of yogurt or sour cream by using a Styrofoam cooler. Use a 25 watt incandescent bulb in an outdoor porch light fixture. Run the wires out through the drain in the cooler. Connect the wires to a sliding light switch. Optional, but highly recommended, is to connect the wires to a portable ground fault circuit interrupter, before it is plugged in. Drill a small hole in the cooler so you can push the probe of a thermometer in (you won't have to keep opening the lid to check the temp.).